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What are IPPs?

Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs) were introduced by the last Labour Government from 2005. They were designed to ensure that dangerous violent and sexual offenders stayed in custody for as long as they presented a risk to society.  Under the system, a person who had committed a specified violent or sexual offence would be given an IPP if the offence was not so serious as to merit a life sentence.  Once they had served their “tariff” they would have to satisfy the Parole Board that they no longer posed a risk before they could be released.

Criticisms of the sentence

The main concerns about IPPs were that:

  • Some less serious offenders were given very short tariffs but then have been kept in prison for a long time after these have expired
  • The prison and parole systems could not cope with the need to give all these short‑tariff prisoners appropriate access to rehabilitative and resettlement programmes so that they could demonstrate they were no longer a risk to society
  • The administrative delays resulted in uncertainty and perceived injustice for prisoners and litigation
  • The rapid increase in the numbers of those on IPPs contributed to prison overcrowding, which in turn exacerbated the problems with providing rehabilitation

IPPs were abolished in 2012, but not for existing prisoners

The Coalition Government abolished sentences of imprisonment for public protection for offenders convicted on or after 3 December 2012, calling the system “not defensible”. It replaced them with different sentences for dangerous offenders.  However the change was not made retrospective. It didn’t apply to existing prisoners serving those sentences at the time. At the end of March 2019 there were still around 2,400 prisoners serving IPPs.

Pressure for further change

Former Justice Secretaries Ken Clarke and Michael Gove have called for reforms. The Chairman of the Parole Board set out in November 2016 how the Board can reduce the numbers of IPP prisoners but also suggested possible ways that the Government could take action if it wanted further reductions.  This could be done by revising the risk test (either for all IPP prisoners or for those with short tariffs) or releasing IPP prisoners who have now served longer than the maximum current sentence for their offence. 

In a thematic review, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, said it was “widely accepted that implementation of the sentence was flawed” and that “decisive action” was needed for reasons of cost, “fairness and justice” and to relieve pressures on the system.

Government statements have pointed to “encouraging” progress” with reducing the numbers serving IPPs but point out the need to balance this progress with the potential dangers such prisoners can pose.

Recently concerns have been raised about the numbers of recalls to prison of IPP prisoners following their release.

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